Remember the last time you left a retail store with items you would not otherwise have bought, just because a good salesclerk found you?
That salesclerk has been showing up more frequently on the Web. Internet retailers are increasingly adding online chat specialists who lurk in the background and wait for signs that someone needs just the slightest nudge to buy an item.
While “live chat” options are nothing new – banks, telephone companies and online retailers have offered instant-messaging options on their Web sites as early as 1999 – the software vendors that supply such systems say that they see the pace of adoption picking up among shopping sites.
In particular, more are taking a page from longtime live-chat Web sites and actively approaching site visitors who seem as if they could use some helpful guidance.
This phenomenon seems to be further evidence that Web retailers are trying to inject their sites with more human qualities, to mimic more closely the bricks-and-mortar experience and try to reduce the number of abandoned digital shopping carts, retail executives and analysts say.
Bluefly, which sells designer clothing on its Web site, plans to introduce “click to chat” buttons this month, not only to prompt potential customers to reach out to the company but also to make overtures to people who seem to be ready to talk about a prospective purchase.
For example, if a visitor searches for more than three items in five minutes, thereby demonstrating more than a passing interest, Bluefly will display a pop-up window with a friendly face offering help. Likewise, if a prospective customer stalls on the checkout page for more than one minute, a Bluefly customer service representative will step forward.
“This lets us give customers a three- dimensional experience, in the sense that you’re adding the voice of someone you can communicate with in real time,” said Melissa Payner, the chief executive of Bluefly, which is based in New York. “It’s not just you sitting there with a screen anymore.”
Lands’ End, which has been offering customer-initiated live chats on its Web site for years, has recently begun to engage customers after they click on multiple items on the site.
Last week, for instance, a shopper who viewed several women’s T-shirts on LandsEnd.com was likely to get a pop-up window with a woman’s face and the message, “A Lands’ End online shopping assistant is standing by.”
Beside the woman’s image was a text box reading, “Welcome to Lands’ End. Would you like assistance completing your order today? Click here to chat with a shopping assistant.”
Lands’ End declined to comment on the service, other than to say that it was being tested.
Robert LoCascio, chief executive of LivePerson, an online chat technology vendor, said that retailers that approach a customer with a chat are much more likely to generate a sale than those that rely on customers to find a chat button and click on it.
Roughly 10 percent of customers who use a “click to chat” button on a product page go on to buy something, he said, and more than 20 percent of people who are solicited for a chat go on to make a purchase.
And on the troubleshooting end, LoCascio said, fewer than 15 percent of people who click on the chat button while in the midst of checkout problems complete their purchases, compared with more than 25 percent of those whom the retailer has approached.
LivePerson, based in New York, has benefited from the trend. Largely from the sales of its chat service, Timpani, the company’s revenue will most likely surpass $30 million this year, LoCascio said, up from about $22 million last year.
In June, LivePerson announced that it would acquire Proficient Systems, another live chat company, for slightly more than $8 million in stock.
LivePerson has refined its approach in recent months, using advice from Paco Underhill, a retailing consultant and author. He suggested tweaking the chat overtures to make them less jarring and adjusting the apparent ages of the women pictured in the chat boxes, veering away from people who look so young that they could be seen as novices.
“The whole purpose is just to get the conversation going,” Underhill said. “Making this process social is important, because the acquisition of goods has never been just about the acquisition of goods. There’s always been a social element to it.”
Fuente: International Herald Tribune, Bob Tedeschi